The Houston Texans finished the preseason with a loss to the Dallas Cowboys, their final chance to audition players for their 53-man roster. Texans coach Bill O'Brien and general manager Rick Smith had already begun their discussions about how to set the roster before Thursday night. The game likely helped focus their decisions. O'Brien said it is possible for one preseason game to change his opinion about a story.
With roster cuts happening today and tomorrow, here is a projection of what the Texans' 53-man roster will look like Saturday night.
If Savage's shoulder injury turns out to be serious enough to land him on injured reserve, then the Texans will keep only two quarterbacks, as many teams do. It will save a roster spot the Texans can use elsewhere. Savage isn't likely to get much playing time barring an injury this year. He'll sit behind Hoyer, the starter, and Mallett, his backup.
Running backs/fullbacks (5)
Polk and seventh-round pick Kenny Hilliard took all the carries for the Texans in their fourth preseason game. Hilliard had 42 yards on 18 carries. Polk had 24 yards on 10 carries. They each caught four passes; Polk for 37 yards and Hilliard for 16. Blue and Grimes got the night off and Foster is, of course, rehabbing from groin surgery. Foster's brother posted a photo during the game of Foster rehabbing. I can see Hilliard winding up on the practice squad after his release.
Wide receivers (5)
The structure of the Texans' offseason moves left little room for another receiver to force his way on the roster. The two free-agent pickups, Shorts and Washington, had strong offseasons. The draft picks, Strong and Mumphery, are safe. Mumphery has drawn praise from his elders in the receiver group and he took on punt-return duties for the Texans in Game 4 of the preseason. It didn't always go well -- he fair-caught one at the 5-yard line and slipped before catching another -- but on one return Mumphery showed some good speed and vision. If Savage has to go on injured reserve, the Texans could keep six here.
Tight ends (3)
The Texans placed tight end Anthony Denham on injured reserve after he cleared waivers. They traded away undrafted rookie Khari Lee for a draft pick. That made the decisions at tight ends pretty simple. The same three who started on the roster last year will start there this year.
Offensive linemen (9)
Adams has shown his value and versatility by starting at left guard and playing tackle in reserve roles this preseason. The Texans traded for Clark to give them more depth at tackle. I've included Slade on this list, but it's hard to tell which undrafted rookie will get a chance here or if more than one will. I do believe Slade, Mancz or Kendall Lamm will get a shot on the roster this year. The Texans kept eight on their line at times last year and could keep eight or nine.
Defensive tackles (3)
Covington is undersized for what the Texans normally like at nose tackle, but he's impressed the coaches. The other two here are decidedly not. Wilfork sat out the preseason but has shown his agility and power in practices. Nix has also been much improved, per defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel.
Defensive ends (3)
After my first roster projection, in which I had only these three defensive ends, some took issue with the numbers here. Look at it this way: This represents the Texans carrying six defensive linemen total. The Texans move around their players on the front seven frequently. They've had outside linebackers put their hands down -- and they will have Clowney do that from time to time.
Outside linebackers (4)
Brown was a long shot heading into training camp, but he's worked hard and just happened to be in the position to make plays in every preseason game. He had two sacks in the first game, a pick-six in the second game, a fumble recovery in the third and a sack Thursday night against the Cowboys. He's still got a lot to learn, and we've seen linebackers coach Mike Vrabel yell at him a lot on "Hard Knocks," but Brown has earned a chance.
Inside linebackers (5)
This was a fascinating competition and I'm still not sure this is right. I've left off inside linebacker Max Bullough, but I think it's possible he makes it instead of Tuggle. It's also possible the Texans keep only four inside linebackers, which would be Cushing, McKinney, Mohamed and Dent. I picked Tuggle here because he made a really strong showing in Thursday night's game, leading the team with eight tackles, six of them solo.
The Texans made sure to get a good look at this position in the game. Johnson, James, Rolle and Darryl Morris took care of Thursday's game, with Morris, James and Johnson starting. Joseph, Jackson and Bouye -- did not play. I went with James because he has stood out on special teams and did well on defense. This isn't just pandering, though James making the team would delight many who have seen his journey on "Hard Knocks."
Demps came to the team during training camp and immediately began making an impact. He caught an interception in his first practice back with the Texans. Pleasant might have won the starting job here. He started in New Orleans and then sat out against the Cowboys last night.
This group really needs no explanation. There are no debates here.